There are two problems at the heart of Britain’s economy: that of driving fair, sustainable growth and that of boosting productivity. The focus has been, for too long, on the latter. We need a shift to investing in, buying from and supporting social enterprises.
We need an economy where businesses create decent work and the where the dividends of growth and prosperity are more equally shared. Check out your history books at the pages on Russia and France: if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer we can head, ultimately, into violent revolution.
The proceeds of growth are, too often, not shared fairly and this leaves many workers dispirited. Too many businesses are focused on minimising their tax bill, rather than contributing a fair share to fund public services. The largest social enterprises and co-operatives in the UK pay more in tax than Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Ebay and Starbucks combined.
Our local economic policy is fixated on productivity. It is a thorny problem: it takes us five days to produce something that Germans do in four. The reasons for this are vexed and no-one seems to be able to put their finger on what might be the problem and how to solve it.
We need a radical shift in the way we think about business and a move to a more socially enterprising economy. This is golden opportunity for the region to create productive, inclusive prosperity. Social enterprises not only create jobs and wealth, they do so more fairly and more innovatively than standard businesses and they also tackle social and environmental problems at the same time.
So, what are social enterprises? Simply put a social enterprise is a business with a good cause at its heart that dedicates its work and its profits towards achieving this good cause. My nine-year-old daughter described them as ‘businesses that help people’ which I thought pretty much nailed it. Nationally famous social enterprises include The Big Issue and Divine Chocolate. But did you know that there are social enterprise banks, book shops and bakeries? There are sport shops, florists, pharmaceutical companies and toilet paper makers. There are also gin, wine, whisky and beer producing social enterprises! Pretty much all sectors of the economy have a social enterprise in them somewhere. Although maybe not in the arms and tobacco industries.
Social enterprises can take many forms. They can be co-operatives, community businesses, trading charities, community interest companies or a myriad of other hybrid ethical structures. This can cause problems of definition but all are united by a common feature: that of using business to tackle social or environmental problems.
Here in the South West we are blessed with some world leading social enterprises. We have The Eden Project and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant in Cornwall. The University of Plymouth was the world’s first accredited social enterprise university and Plymouth was the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise City’ – a virtual brand that has led to over £6 million of investment into the city in the last three years. Livewell Southwest operates across large parts of Devon and is one of the largest health and social care social enterprises in the UK. Plymouth Energy Community, which raised over £3 million to put solar panels on schools and Plymouth’s Life Centre, has revolutionised the way we look at local energy generation, investment and community ownership.
Across Devon and Somerset there are well over a thousand social enterprises. Their combined turnover is £1.5 billion per year and they employ close to 33,000 people. That’s big – and small – business but, despite being a significant part of the economy that is better for all of us, it is still marginal in government policy making.
So back to why investing in social enterprise is an answer to solving the knotty problem of a fairer economy. Here are some killer facts. Social enterprises are more likely to innovate and are more profitable than standard businesses. Social enterprises are more likely to be led by women. They are starting up at a faster rate and are operating in the most disadvantaged parts of the region: where we most need businesses to work to create productive growth. Critically, social enterprises are also much more likely to pay more fairly: over three quarters of social enterprises report paying the living wage to their employees.
Social enterprise shows us that we can create a vision of a better world driven by business. And this is a pro-business and an unashamedly ‘for profit’ agenda. The more profit we make the more good things we can do with it.
It is social enterprises that are building the inclusive, prosperous, productive economy we need to rejuvenate our high streets, treat workers and pay women fairly and tackle deep rooted social and environmental issues.
Business can make us noble or be a tool for oppression and control. Increasing unfairness can lead to deep societal problems. We need to enhance and protect our environment whilst creating decent jobs. I think social enterprises can create solutions and offer an alternative, compelling vision. One based on business.
PSEN attended the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh last week. What an event! We’ll provide a fuller report of our experience and how the conference applies to Plymouth’s social enterprises at our network meeting on 25th September. A quick summary:
It was a fantastic, energising and stimulating week. Attended by over 1,400 people from nearly 50 different countries the event was a huge celebration of social enterprise alongside lots of politics, debate and discussion on many themes. It was chance to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. There was even some dancing at a Scottish ceilidh (less said about the attempts at this the better!)
We were able to share the work of many of our social enterprises in various events. We went to the launch of Callander as Scotland’s first social enterprise place. We also attended events on building strong networks; tech for good; marketing social enterprises; procurement and supply chain; the UN Sustainable Development Goals and more. Some salient points were:
1. There was an expressed need for more digital social enterprise businesses.
2. We need to create a compelling vision of a better future – one where social enterprise is the ‘norm’.
3. We need to engage with wider audiences (creatives, corporates, small businesses, public sector, schools, general population, etc) – we can’t just talk to ourselves.
4. The importance of political support – Scotland’s ministers seemed to really ‘get’ social enterprise and see it as integral to their economic strategies. This has led to investment and the development of a good ecosystem of support.
5. Getting large businesses to spend more with social enterprises – this will increase impact rather than putting money into CSR initiatives.
6. That social enterprise ‘structure’ and the ability to be held to account were seen as marginally more important than ‘impact’.
The most powerful moment was a brilliant talk by Bruktawit Tigabu of Whiz Kids in Ethiopia. The country struggles with low literacy and Bruktawit said that two thirds of young girls in the country think that domestic violence can be justified. A shocking statistic that illustrates why her work is so desperately needed. Ethiopia will host the 2019 Social Enterprise World Forum.
There was also a great talk by Lord Victor Adebowale, Chair of SEUK. He reminded us that as a sector we need to be more joined up. We need to make alliances in the social economy and with the private sector.
The SEWF reminded us that if we want to create a better future we need to lead or the future will be created for us. Social enterprises employ more women, people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, young people. Social enterprises work in areas that need economic development. Social enterprises pay more fairly. We should be unashamed of this and we need to BE business. Not charity but business.
We need to talk about anarchism. Once you get past the often misleading, negative, bomb-chucking stereotypes of the proceeding centuries, many of the ideas contained within the, by definition, very broad church of anarchist thought are quite sensible. Indeed, in many cases emphasizing balance and moderation. They also have the potential to provide at least part of the answer to society’s infinitely complex growing list of challenges, from political disenfranchisement to growing inequalities, aging populations, environmental degradation and shrinking public services.
This was the AGM report for 2018, delivered by our Chair, Gareth Hart.
Our aims remain simple: we want to support our members work and raise awareness of social enterprise in Plymouth. We rely on membership fees and member engagement to do this. We think being a member of PSEN is excellent value for money and hope you will continue to be involved.
PSEN believes that social enterprise is a fundamental way to help Plymouth become a better city to live and work in. Imagine if every business in Plymouth were a social enterprise – it would transform the health and happiness of residents and workers in the city. This means a Plymouth where:
• Wealth is generated sustainably and stays here to improve the quality of life for all
• Everyone has access to meaningful work – work that they can see makes a difference to their community, the environment and the world
• Good ideas are generated and entrepreneurialism encouraged
• Social enterprise is central to the way we do business
• Social enterprises are able to thrive
• Social enterprise is understood and where people think of it as the model of choice when setting up a business
• Social enterprises have access to the very best business advice and investment
We want to see our economy grow in a way that creates these conditions, not hinders them. Developing business that has ethics at its core and exists to improve our social and natural environment (social enterprise) – rather than personal profit – is needed to make this happen.
What we’ve done in 2017-2018
Social Enterprise City continues to frame a lot of our discussions and work. In 2013 Plymouth became the UK’s first Social Enterprise City (part of the SEUK ‘places’ scheme). This has led to over £6 million of investment for social enterprises in the city, it has led to the Council developing better commissioning and procurement practices for social value, it has led to national organizations like Power to Change, Esmee Fairbairn and Rank Foundation wanting to come and invest in Plymouth. The Social Enterprise City brand has undoubtedly helped us achieve a huge amount on behalf of members but it is still a brand with more potential.
Over the last year, on behalf of our members PSEN has:
• Consulted and provided information to the LEP to create a more inclusive Productivity strategy
• Supported the delivery of the Enhance Social Enterprise programme for business advice
• Delivered another great Social Enterprise City Festival in November
• Secured national coverage for our members in the Guardian
• Co-delivered the Power to Change Empowering Places programme in the city
• Worked with the Rank Foundation to secure investment for Plymouth’s social enterprises
• Finished off our Social Enterprise for a Sustainable and Inclusive Economy programme – funded by Awards for All
• Worked strategically to ensure Inclusive Growth is a priority for Plymouth
• Delivered a number of events for Social Saturday
• Represented Plymouth social enterprises across the country – in Oxford, Sheffield, Salford and even internationally in Lithuania
• Developed a new logo and new website
Some facts and figures
• We now have about 70 members
• Collectively these social enterprises bring in around £555 million of income and employ around 7,500 people in the city.
• The sector is hugely diverse – you only have to look in the online directory.
• But we think there are nearly 200 social enterprises in the city – we need to find them and get them involved! If you know a social enterprise get them to join. Together we are stronger.
• Work with the new council
• Developing our proposition and a clearer offer – social enterprise includes coops, community businesses, mutuals, charities, CICs and more.
• We need more members
• Hold more regular meetings
• Conduct better member consultation
We’d like to thank everyone who served on the PSEN executive committee this year – without your largely voluntary efforts none of this would be possible. Thank you to Jess who tirelessly delivers our newsletter and all the social media work and more. Thanks to all our strategic partners – Plymouth City Council, Rank Foundation, Power to Change, SEUK, the other networks in the region and Devon County Council.
Also, thanks to you, the PSEN members – we only exist because of your great work. You are Social Enterprise City and without you we couldn’t achieve any of this.